On Graduating Pre-K

Dear Readers,

Why  is it that when nearing an end, time seems to accelerate? There are 11 days of school left for Max. 11 days! What?! Max has been at his current preschool for almost two  years and he’s  done summer camp there twice. It literally feels like yesterday that we found this school and were the new kids on the block who didn’t know anyone.

This is Max’s little world.

Classroom door

There is the morning  drop off, the afternoon pick up. The small tables and chairs. The gazillion art projects. The incredibly warm, thoughtful, caring, wonderful teachers and staff. The parents. I’m not sure if  leaving  this school will be harder for me or for Max. I’ve got a  lump in my throat.  It will be difficult in parts and maybe easy in other ways, but I believe that we’ll both be OK. I know there’ll be tears. His. Mine.

I’m holding on to the moments as they fly by. But I have to keep letting go to make room for new moments.  I know I still have to show him how to leave, how to begin. But he’s also getting the hang of it on his own. I stay in the moment, but know the moment is ending even as it’s happening. Sometimes I wish for less awareness. I wish I didn’t feel some of this stuff. I wish  I could be like other people who seem to transition easier, people who can let go faster (or maybe they feel it too but are just better at hiding it). I’ve never been one of those people. I hold on. I don’t like letting go. I get very attached to people and places. That’s  how I’ve always been. It hurts  when it’s over, but then I think,  I had a full experience and felt something.  Better to have loved and lost.

By Max’s pal, Nina

We’ll  want to stay in touch with Max’s current circle of friends, my circle of friends. I know it will be possible and impossible (as it is already now with everyone’s schedules). I know that everyone is going off to various summer plans and then to different schools. I know that what we know now, exactly as it is,  will end.

Max art

I really  hope we  stay in touch and not lose everyone. I  can’t bear the thought of never seeing these people again. But I also know, as it is with small children, that the day-to-day changes when you go from place to place, from one school to another. I know Max’s world is expanding and that’s  a good thing. I know nothing lasts forever. I know Max is growing up and that’s  something to celebrate.

I don’t like goodbyes or endings, even if they’re inevitable and part of  life or are expected or perfectly timed, or are part of growing up or reality or how it is. I don’t like having to say goodbye or feeling the hurt of missing people I care about. Yet, I know I can and that I’ll be  fine. I know that Max can do it, too. But I don’t have to like it and neither does he. And I hope I find out that other parents feel the same way, so we can share in it together.

Maybe Max will be better than me at leaving, and I can look back at this and have a good chuckle. Silly me, worried for nothing. Last week, he was poring over a map on the back of a cereal box and said to his dad, “I’m looking at the map. I wonder what my new school will be like.” Andy said that Max was curious and excited. And who cares that he was looking on the wrong map to find his school? That tells me he’s processing things in his own way. Max knows he’s leaving his current school and he’s looking forward, too.

Recently, Max wanted me to watch him do a new trick on the monkey bars.  “Only big kids can do this, Mommy!” Then several of his friends showed me their cool moves. They  do incredible feats with their strong bodies. I realized that I finally know everyone’s names. It sure took me long enough. I’m going to miss them all.

I love Max’s friends, their parents, and the teachers and how much I have learned from them. I will miss this time period, this place. It has been good. And who wants something good to end? It’s bittersweet.

Getting ready for one of the “best days ever!” Leap day, 2/29/12 wearing silly, mismatched clothes and underwear as a hat.

Then there will be the next place. The next circle of friends. Which is a bit scary, but is also very exciting. Kindergarten in public school. I think that’s a big deal. It certainly feels big. Sometimes it feels like I need to breathe into a paper-bag-BIG. A guardian angel in my life told me, “It is an accepted maternal tradition to be freaking out about kindergarten.” I was immensely relieved to hear this after I was doing everything I could to squash how freaked out I felt. Oh, I’m not freaking out. I’m fine. No really. 

His  teacher told me Max is absolutely ready for Kindergarten. What a relief to hear this. She told me, “He’ll be OK and you’ll be OK.” She gave me great advice. She suggested that since September is light years away in the mind of a 5 and a half-year old, it’s better to not over talk the topic of BIG NEW GROWN UP KINDERGARTEN. Or to build it up into something GREAT.  She suggested that we let Max bring the topic up and let him guide how much we talk about it (or not).  She said that sometimes children are afraid that getting older and going to Kindergarten means the fun is over. I’m doing my best to reassure Max that the fun won’t end. So far, this strategy seems to be working.

At the school playground

The reality is that what Max knows now will in fact be over and there will be a real loss.  I believe it’s important to allow ourselves a minute to let that sink in and let whatever feelings we have about it come and go freely. I imagine there will be sadness, anger, frustration but also excitement, celebration, and pride. Squashing feelings doesn’t move one forward faster, it usually is a set up to get stuck, instead.

The teacher also suggested that instead of us telling Max how it will be, since no one can predict or know exactly how it will be or feel like for him, that if he brings it up, to simply ask him questions or mirror back observations: “I hear that you’re excited/ scared/ curious.” Or leave things open-ended. “It’s true, going to a new school can be scary AND exciting. You won’t know how you’ll feel until you’re there and  find out.” Or something along those lines.

Max tends to get anxious if he knows too much (or too little) ahead of a big change. I’m a fan of the need to know information flow. Many things require advance notice and preparation and this does, too. But I agree with his teacher. Max doesn’t need to know every single detail before he’s ready, or before it’s much closer on the calendar, or before I’m a bit over my freak out that his preschool days are almost over. Which, by  the way, since I accepted how freaked out I was feeling, I’ve actually become much calmer about it. Squashing my feelings isn’t the same as presenting a calm front for Max. That I do as best I can. But acknowledging my real feelings helps me move through them so they don’t control me. To sum up: I’m both freaked out AND calm. OK, truth: calm-ish. Mostly ish.

When we know which school Max will be going to, we can start preparing him for the specific place (drive by and show it to him for starters, etc.). I think that unknown factor is contributing to my nerves. But our town has a system by  which we’re notified of placement in mid-summer, so I’m not the only one in the dark right now. And I’m pretty sure the schools organize orientations and help facilitate play dates for incoming Kindergarteners (and their anxious newbie parents, like yours truly). I look forward to those events where we can meet our new future friends and classmates and get a grip on what will become our new routine in the Fall. Gulp.

Max at home, May 2012, photo by Elana Halberstadt

Our family moved when Max was two and a half, leaving his first preschool. Then we moved again when he was three and a half, leaving his second preschool, so it wasn’t surprising to me that when he realized he’d be leaving his current school soon, that he was  concerned. “Are we moving again? I don’t want to!” I reassured him that yes, he’d be going to a new school, but no, we’re not moving. Big sigh of relief!

I’m also thinking of those first two preschools —both wonderful. I still have friends from both of them. It is good to remember that even with time passing and big distances, that some friendships last. And even if these friendships aren’t as present in our daily lives, we remember our  friends and our time in the world together: the babies, the 2s, 3s, 4s—they’ll  always have a place in our hearts.

Last night, Max and Andy had a chat. Max said, “I like our house. I have a lot of friends. You meet new friends your whole life. Right, Daddy?”

For now, I’m holding on to my gratitude for a terrific preschool experience. Blurry, mushy, fast moving and slow days. Minutes and months and all weather and a full range of feelings for how much Max has grown and how much I have, too, because of this specific place, with these specific people. I am immensely grateful.

Max on the first day of pre-K, Sept. 2011

I hope we have a good goodbye. We’ll celebrate what we’ve accomplished. And then, after that, with pounding hearts and sweaty palms, we’ll walk into the next place, with new people, and we’ll say, “Hi. It’s very good to meet you.”

You meet new friends your whole life, right?

Yes, you do.

8 thoughts on “On Graduating Pre-K

  1. Beautiful post.
    Joan, a new friend (yes, you meet them your whole life, max…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves 🙂
    Savor the last days.

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